West Ham defender Kurt Zouma was named in the starting line-up against Watford on Tuesday and spectators made their feelings clear, booing the player whenever he got a touch of the ball.
Watford’s visiting fans were quick to make their feelings clear by relentlessly booing Zouma and chanting, among other things, "RSPCA, RSPCA".
A disturbing video circulated earlier in the day of the footballer kicking and slapping a cat.
The 27-year-old was widely condemned after being seen in the clip kicking and slapping the animal, before throwing a pair of shoes at it and slapping its head.
Despite Essex Police making enquiries into the footage amid calls for the player to face criminal sanctions, Hammers manager David Moyes controversially kept Zouma in the starting 11.
When asked before kick-off if the video had had any influence on his decision to play the French international against Watford, Mr Moyes told BT Sport: “No, because he is one of our better players. But it is certainly ongoing and the club are dealing with it, so that is a separate matter.”
Reporting shortly before the line-up was revealed, ITV News Correspondent Chloe Keedy summed up the backlash to the video
The decision will likely be met with surprise by many, with West Ham having criticised Zouma’s actions in a strongly-worded statement following the publication of the clip. “West Ham United unreservedly condemns the actions of our player, Kurt Zouma, in the video that has circulated,” the club said. “We have spoken to Kurt and will be dealing with the matter internally, but we would like to make it clear that we in no way condone cruelty towards animals.”
Zouma’s brother, Dagenham & Redbridge defender Yoan, has also been condemned by his club for filming the video and for “his reactions to the events shown”.
He said he “deeply regretted” his actions in his own statement on the club’s official website.
Essex Police have said they are aware of a video circulating on social media relating to the incident.
“We have recently been made aware that this incident may have taken place in Essex and we are liaising with the RSPCA. Urgent enquiries are ongoing," a spokesperson said.
Zouma, who joined West Ham from Chelsea in August 2021, has also released a statement, apologising for his actions and expressing his regret. He said: “I want to apologise for my actions. There are no excuses for my behaviour, which I sincerely regret. “I also want to say how deeply sorry I am to anyone who was upset by the video. I would like to assure everyone that our two cats are perfectly fine and healthy. “They are loved and cherished by our entire family, and this behaviour was an isolated incident that will not happen again.”
A spokesperson for animal welfare charity the RSPCA also condemned the video.
"It’s never acceptable to kick, hit or slap an animal, for punishment or otherwise,” they said.
“We are so grateful to people who report suspected animal suffering to us and we would like to reassure people we will always look into and, if necessary, investigate any complaints made to us about animal welfare.”
Dr Maggie Roberts, Director of Veterinary Services at Cats Protection, issued a statement which read: “Causing any animal unnecessary suffering is a criminal offence under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. Any person seen or suspected of treating an animal badly, whether this is physical violence, neglect or any other form of cruelty should be reported to the RSPCA.”